It may have been an empty-netter, but Marian Hossa scored his 20th goal of the season Friday night in the Blackhawks’ 5-2 defeat of the Winnipeg Jets. He now leads Chicago in goals, sits fifth in points and is skating second-line minutes on a team that’s honest to goodness in a position to compete with some of the best in the Western Conference.
This is the part where it’s necessary to remind you that Marian Hossa is 38. He’s the seventh-oldest regularly active player in the NHL, nearly double the age of at least three of his teammates and in the back half of a 12-year contract that most believed he wasn’t ever going to complete. The thought was Hossa would have skated off into the sunset by now, with his three Stanley Cups and Hall of Fame credentials in tow.
Instead, Hossa is on pace for a 30-goal season, 50-plus points and could very well finish the campaign with an offensive output much the same as those he had back in the days when he had just joined the Blackhawks. Sure, he’s shooting at a rate he hasn’t since even his very best years, but that’s almost the normalization of a shooting percentage that had fallen off precipitously since Hossa’s stellar 30-goal, 60-point year in 2013-14. The truth is, though, that Hossa’s game goes well beyond points.
Even in his heyday, when he was a 70-, 80-, 90- or even 100-point scorer, Hossa was noted not just for his ability to fill the net and the score sheet, but his two-way play. Wingers aren’t often all that high in voting for the Selke Trophy, but Hossa has received votes for the award on a perennial basis since the early days of his career. And watching him play, there’s almost no sign of him slowing down. On the back check, he skates with the same fervour he did when he was just joining the Blackhawks, his ability to strip the puck hasn’t left him and he’s still relied upon heavily by coach Joel Quenneville.
There’s also the matter of penalty killing, at which Hossa is still one of the best the Blackhawks have to offer. He averages 1:30 per game when Chicago’s down a man, and the only forwards who see more time on the kill are Marcus Kruger and Dennis Rasmussen, both of whom could be considered defensive specialists.
Of course, Hossa’s not exactly the same player he was during the best years of his career. He is 38, after all, and age waits for no man. While he was a juggernaut at both ends of the ice during his best years, the sheltering has started to happen for Hossa. He takes a greater slant of offensive draws than he does defensive draws. That said, according to Hockey Abstract's player usage charts, only six players in Chicago’s lineup face competition as stiff as Hossa, and there are only four forwards who consistently face tougher opponents.
That Hossa is having this resurgence, if you can call it that, is mind-blowing, too. Following the 2015-16 season, most would have thought Hossa was ready to hang up his skates after he mustered only 13 goals and 33 points across 64 games, watching his ice time dip from more 18:33 to 17:16. Age had caught up, some thought, and there was simply no more room for the veteran winger on a Blackhawks roster that was consistently up against the salary cap, somehow managing to find players who fit under the upper limit to ice a competitive team.
In that same vein, there was also the crowd that thought there was a chance that maybe, possibly, Hossa was going to call it quits on the final years of his deal with his salary dropping. And drop it did. Because of the front-loaded structure of Hossa’s deal, he was paid handsomely during the first seven years of his contract despite the fact he had a cap hit of $5.275 million. Across those first seven seasons, he earned $7.9 million per year, and this past season saw his salary slashed nearly in half. He’s earning $4 million this season, and come the 2017-18 campaign, he’s under contract for a mere $1 million per year until the end of 2020-21.
But here Hossa is — again, at 38 — as a 20-goal scorer. The list of players who have done that since the dawn of the dead puck era is limited. Among those who’ve accomplished the feat are Daniel Alfredsson, Teemu Selanne, Martin St-Louis and the ageless wonder, Jaromir Jagr. And here’s Hossa, the 30th player in the past 20-plus years his age or older, to net 20 goals. It gets more absurd yet if he somehow reaches the 30-goal mark, as he’ll join a list of three players, including Selanne, St-Louis and Brett Hull, to pot 30 at their age in this time period.
The Blackhawks, as always, are going to be up against the cap and keeping Hossa at his current rate isn’t easy, but with what he’s provided offensively now, and what he provides defensively always, makes it that much easier to stomach. He won’t be earning what he has in the past, but he said he would “try to go for it” and his production is proving that he’s still got more than enough in his game to give it a real shot.
So, play another five years? At this point, one has to wonder if a Jagr like youthful exuberance won’t allow Hossa to play another season on top of the five he has left.
Want more in-depth features and expert analysis on the game you love? Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.